Masternak hoping to make a dream come true against Billam-Smith

There are not many fighters who box 52 times as a pro at a good level and still have not fought for a world title.

On Sunday, Polish veteran Mateusz Masternak has his first shot at cruiserweight world gold when he enters the Bournemouth lion’s den to take on hometown hero and WBO champion Chris Billam-Smith. 

The 47-5 (31 KOs) contender from Wroclaw has travelled to fight in England before, losing a rough fight to Tony Bellew back in 2015 for the vacant European title on points.

Masternak has always been just a win or two away from a world title, but he gets his first chance now, at the age of 36, and he is ready to make it count.

“[It has been] 17 years of hard training and dedication, so I’m ready for this fight,” Masternak said, via a translator. “I don’t think too much about what will happen after [Sunday]. I would like to deliver my best, then we will see. Being a world champion is a dream for me. Being the home fighter, I know Chris will have the crowd behind him, but I will show my toughness and I believe that I’m going to take this belt to Poland. I’m experienced and, believe me, I’m ready for this fight.”

Masternak also contends that he is unfazed by boxing in front of Billam-Smith’s partisan fanbase. More than 3,000 are expected into the Bournemouth International Centre, where Billam-Smith defeated Isaac Chamberlain and common foe Armend Xhoxhaj, who was stopped in four rounds by Masternak and in five by Billam-Smith.

In 2014, Masternak travelled to France to defeat former world cruiserweight champion Jean Marc Mormeck on a majority decision.

“That was a hot territory,” Masternak recalled. “Five thousand people against me, but it doesn’t bother me. I know where I came from. I took the win, I’m ready for everything.”

Masternak, with 348 rounds behind him as a pro, has boxed top opposition, from Mormeck and Bellew to Grigory Drozd, Ismayl Sillah and Yuniel Dorticos.

“The fight against Tony Bellew was a good fight, a tough fight, and the EBU decided it was Fight of the Year,” Masternak recalled. “I think, if that fight had happened in Poland, I could have been a winner.”

Masternak turned pro in 2006, 11 years before Billam-Smith. The champion has boxed 19 times in the pros, but the challenger rates the Bournemouth star highly. 

“I have watched Chris Billam-Smith for some time,” Masternak explained. “I watched his fight against [Tommy] McCarthy and when he fought against [Lawrence] Okolie, I thought that level would be too high for him but he showed his strong will, skills and he got the title.”

Masternak thinks that May win over Okolie might even make Billam-Smith the best in the division as things stand, too. Asked who was the best at 200lbs out of the champions, Badou Jack (WBC), Arsen Goulamirian (WBA) and Jai Opetaia (IBF, as well as Billam-Smith), Masternak said: “I cannot say too much about Jai Opetaia [the IBF champion] but after Chris’s last fight, you could say he was the best one.”

But there are issues between Masternak and Opetaia. The two had been scheduled to fight, but Opetaia suffered an injury and the bout never materialised. Now, it is a thorny subject for the Pole.

“It’s not the first time,” Masternak said, of the Opetaia fight falling through. “It was about six months of negotiations. I think some of the people around Jai made the negotiations even harder, so while I gave up and with my promoter, we were trying to get the fight with Chris Billam-Smith.”

That is now the focus of Masternak’s attention. His first world title attempt and it could be his last, so he is keen to make it count. Despite having been around for so long, and although he has spanned two eras of British cruisers, from Bellew to Billam-Smith, Masternak reckons now is his time. 

“I’m still fresh,” the challenger insisted. “I’m more mature, more experienced but still young. If you look at my career, he shouldn’t underestimate me. If he’s going to do that, that will be his problem.”